Pritam on KK: ‘I cannot say Alvida, have lost the voice of my emotion’

KK and I, we were like fellow travelers on a musical journey. So it is extremely unfair that I am left midway and because of COVID-19, could not even see him one last time. And I do not know how a big lover of life like KK, who helped me look at our larger sense of purpose beyond music, is not by my side today. A lot will be said about his music but seldom will anybody talk about how we lost a good human being, who was faithful to every relationship he had with people. We may not have spoken or met daily but showed up for each other when it mattered the most.

We go back a long way, the days when we were busy finding our feet in Mumbai. AfterII my sound engineering course at FT Pune, I moved to this city in 1998. KK had settled here a year before. Both of us began with ad jingles and doing scores for corporate films — I would compose and he would sing. Both of us had grown up with and believed in rock music and, therefore, connected easily. In between our assignments at studios, I would strum my guitar, something that I have been doing since college, and he would hum along with me. KK had his own band but somehow he got me, understood my angst, and lent his voice to my deepest emotions. We vibed and resonated with each other. So when I got my first film Tere Liye (2001), KK was the first singer I signed up. Since then, there has been no film where KK has not sung for me. I ensured that he would sing at least one number for me. I have always imagined KK’s voice before composing a song. It was a given that we had to be there for each other. So when he recorded Yeh Hausle with me for 83, little did I realise that it would be our last creative collaboration.

His Tu hi meri shab hai, which I composed for the film Gangster, became a huge hit but it was Tadap Tadap from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam that made KK a star. It was around this time that I casually recited Alvida to him at Galaxy studio and he liked it so much that I promised he would be my voice if the song ever got chosen. And it became the driving force for Life in A Metro. But he stayed faithful to his music and helped me stay on the same course without worrying too much about what the world thought of us. He never sold himself, lobbied with industry groups or believed in any form of self-projection except while singing his heart out for his listeners. The desire to be in the rat race just didn’t exist in him. As long as he had crowds around his stage, he was a livewire that needed no publicity or advertisement. His music coursed through your veins in such a manner that you would be forever addicted to him and find space for no other.

As a music composer, rarely have I come across an artist who can hold the weight of extreme emotions in his voice. KK had that rare ability of balancing the power of his voice with the import of the lyrics. He never faltered in either, note or delivery, never dropped a sur as the emotions of the song overwhelmed him completely. He could be involved and detached at the same time. That’s why he was full-throated and delicately sweet and sensuous at the same time. Since he understood the language and grammar of my music, he could give life to it so easily and perhaps had spoiled me a bit. He was impromptu and creative at the same time. We were recording Kal Ki Hi Baat Hai for the film Chhichhore, and he had this crazy idea of ​​shooting a video with our sons as a cross-generational interaction. We released it online not to notch up hits but to have fun with nostalgia for his own sake. But then that was KK, always ready to make you smile.

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Everybody who knows KK would know that he valued his private time and vacation and never took on more work than he could chew. Yet when it came to music, he would break his own self-imposed rules. I remember he was on holiday in New Zealand, choosing a remote village atop a hill in the wilderness to unwind, when deadline pressures meant I had to reschedule the recording of Tu Jo Mila for Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Now if you’ve watched the film, you would know that the song is more than a leitmotif, it is a character in its own right and had to be sung in differing versions. KK drove down to Auckland, hired a studio, recorded his versions and sent them over. That was the level of his commitment.

There was only one film where I didn’t think of him. The song was Labon Ko Labon Mein Saja Do from Bhul Bhulaiya. I wanted it to have the effect of a vibrato, which involves a pulsating change of pitch and needs to be expressive of the mood embodied in the lyrics. We tried every artist in the book, including big names, but things just didn’t work out. So I called KK and such was his musical intelligence, that he stepped out of his comfort zone and executed the song with precision. It became a superhit. And he laughed at the end of our recording session, saying, “Mujhse kya kya karwate rehte ho.” It was all in a day’s work.

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He was my big brother and life coach. For all my late working hours, late sleeping and irregular food habits, I have never seen a more disciplined and wellness-oriented person. I am a last-moment guy, he was the sorted guy. He would do yoga, not smoke or drink, eat right, sleep and wake up on time, get timely medical check-ups. In fact, he would pull me up for not listening to and ignoring my body. He would not agree to absurd schedules and space out his work, even let go of big projects if it upset his work-life balance. He would never let stress get to him and my heart goes out to his wife Jyoti. She was his world and should the slightest thing happen to her or their child, he would leave everything else to take care of them. He was the perfect family man and he fiercely protected his privacy, never letting any external influence get into it. So it hurts immensely that this man, who led by example, had to go this way. They don’t make men like him anymore. It is true KK never got his due within the music industry, given the benchmarks that define success. But he got love from music fans all over the world. Loved not in the cosmetic sense but of the spiritual kind, where a bit of his heart lives in each one of us.

As told to Rinku Ghosh.

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